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Gym membership wellness program as a cost benefit for insurance companies
AuthorOrange, Laura M.
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Gym memberships are offered to the public for a fee to provide cardiovascular and strength conditioning equipment that promotes exercising behavior and improves health. Consistent exercising behavior as a preventive health measure demonstrates a reduction in obesity and comorbidities associated with obesity. A health insurance company in Reno, Nevada offers the Motivate U wellness program, which includes gym membership and a personal trainer, at no cost to selected insured members to promote healthy lifestyle changes; with an anticipated return-on-investment (ROI) due to decreased healthcare costs and medication expenses associated with the treatment of comorbidities of obesity. The purpose of this prospective study was to evaluate the health outcomes and cost-benefit ratio of Hometown Health Insurance’s Motivate U Program. This study compared Motivate U participants’ cost of current medications and number of health care visits, along with changes in body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and laboratory values at baseline and after completion of an 8-week gym membership program. This data determined whether the exercise behavior promoted a less expensive treatment to comorbidities of obesity compared with usual medical care. The study used a modified trans theoretical model of behavior change to demonstrate the act of changing behavior to promote preventive health with exercise. This study assumed that changing one’s behavior to include consistent physical exercise would decrease obesity and associated comorbidities, along with decreased health care visits and lower costs of medication. A decrease in healthcare expenses would demonstrate an economic benefit for Hometown Health Insurance that would be significant enough to offer free gym membership coverage for all their members. There were 65 study participants who completed the Motivate U wellness program in spring 2016. Baseline and post-intervention comparisons of the study group demonstrated statistically significant decreases in body mass index (p < 0.001), diastolic blood pressure (p < 0.001), number of days exercised (p < 0.001), and minutes per day exercised (p < 0.001). The ROI for the 8-week Motivate U Program was estimated at 113.6%. A 6-month post intervention survey of 25 participants, identified a significant decrease in the self-reported number of medications taken (p < 0.001) and amount of money spent on medications (p = 0.036) compared to baseline. In addition, perceived barriers of tiredness or lack of motivation to exercise were reported to be resolved post intervention. There was no significant difference in the number of visits to healthcare providers over the course of this study. This study demonstrated that health insurance companies can offer fiscally responsible wellness programs with gym memberships that promote positive health behavior change and outcomes in their participants. The Motivate U wellness program demonstrated a positive ROI, along with benefits to participants as evidenced by increased number of days and minutes exercised, as well as decreases in BMI and diastolic blood pressure contributing to an overall economic benefit for treating obesity. Recommendations would be to perform a longitudinal study > 8 weeks with more participants to better assess the financial savings of the program.